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Building Regulations

Volume 886: debated on Thursday 13 February 1975

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10.1 p.m.

I beg to move,

That this House takes note of the Building (Second Amendment) Regulations 1974 (S.I., 1974, No. 1944), dated 22nd November 1974, a copy of which was laid before this House on 9th December.
Our object is to debate insulation, hence the Prayer that has been tabled in the name of myself and my hon. Friends to annul the Building (Second Amendment) Regulations 1974. For the benefit of the Under-Secretary of State, Part F is the only section with which we are concerned.

It is only fair that I say immediately that we support any move to conserve energy. I note that the Minister is slinking down in his seat. He is obviously conserving his energy. If we reduce our import bill that will give us all cause for satisfaction. Our concern is that the Government, in presenting these regulations, have muffed a great opportunity to do considerably more. There is always the hope that my hon. Friends—and there are not many of us present—

The Minister should not get too worked up about that Not many of his hon. Friends are sitting behind him.

We are hopeful that there will be a change of heart. It is a staggering thought that 40 per cent of the United Kingdom's energy requirement is devoted to home heating and that 70 per cent is immediately wasted. Perhaps I need not mention such things as draughty windows, walls and roofs. They apply in Manchester just as much as in Shipley and Bradford.

If the matter is as important as the hon. Gentleman states, why was it not done during the Conservative Government's four years?

Government Whips should be silent. I cannot put up with that sort of opposition. This is a matter that should have been tackled many years ago. We must share some of the blame. The fact that the energy crisis is now with us makes it more imperative than ever that more action should be taken. It does not need much action to reduce the wastage from 70 per cent to 25 per cent. It is incredible that we are the only developed nation in Europe that allows naked cavity wall construction to continue. Immediately 35 per cent of heating is lost.

I am sure that all hon. Members are aware that the in-filling of cavity walls would immediately rectify that heat loss. What is proposed in the regulations is to perpetuate a situation that has continued for far too long. The Minister and his hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction have written to a number of my hon. Friends instancing the cost. Of course, there is an extra cost involved, but we are talking about a maximum of £150. That seems to be a reasonable sum and not an intolerable burden if in the process the nation can save hundreds of millions of pounds.

Is it not a fact that many people, including elderly people living in older units of accommodation, are finding it impossible to heat their homes as they would wish? Under this Government the situation will get worse. The improvements which we suggest mean that every new house and all houses that are modernised will come up to the standard that I have mentioned, and that within three to five years the extra cost will have been saved. I find it hard to believe that there can be any disagreement on this objective. But how do we set about it?

The Government have made a serious error in opting for a figure of 1·0 as the thermal transfer coefficient or U value. Those of us who have been involved in the building industry could understand the old figure of 1·7, because that was derived from the old British thermal unit. I believe that the old figure was 0·3, and it recognised a certain standard which had to be worked to for cavity brick walls. Improvements had to be made. But why do the Government come forward with a regulation of 1·0?

The Minister is never reluctant in coming forward. The hon. Gentleman gives various explanations for his actions and I hope that he will enlighten us on how this figure was arrived at. Was it selected as the half-way stage between 1·7 and 0·6? If my arithmetic is not at fault, it is near enough the half-way stage. By doing that the Government will give the nation the worst of all worlds. They will cause the maximum disruption to an important sector of the building industry and will not achieve the energy savings which are necessary in the national interest.

Who wants this magical figure of 1·0? I shall be interested to find out. Who are the faceless people—I presume they are in the Department of the Environment—who settled on it? It was certainly not the industry.

The Minister for Housing and Construction claimed that most of the bodies consulted—I believe the figure was 190, but I am not sure that they all duly reported—were in favour of the proposal. Who are these people? There can be no more than 20 interests involved in the industry. Indeed, it is suggested to me that the number could be fewer than 10. The views of the people who are in day-to-day involvement in the industry and make their livelihoods in it have more right to be listened to than the other 170 bodies which were presumably circulated.

I was fascinated to learn that among the bodies consulted on the matter of insulation, which is a fairly technical subject, were the British Theatre Technicians, the British Pest Control Association, the National Association of Lift Makers, the Youth Hostels Association, the National Federation of Master Steeplejacks and the Lightning Conductor Engineers. No doubt they are important bodies, but for the Minister to say that of the people consulted the majority were in favour is a little dishonest. I believe that he should have placed more weight on the views of those organisations which depend for their livelihoods on the right decision being taken. I suspect that when those bodies were consulted they ex pressed the view that, whatever they said, energy savings would be the result and therefore they must be in favour of this move from 1·7 to 1·0. But we submit that it does not go far enough.

The people who are not satisfied are those who manufacture bricks and blocks apart from the three firms which have a vested interest in settling for 1·0, which immediately gets rid of 75 per cent. of those firms who have the market at the moment. Those three firms will be happy to corner that market. However, that is not what the debate should be about. The brickmakers have only 10 per cent. of the market. I am talking of interior walls. The regulations are law now and they will have to conform to them. However, we hope that our parliamentary system is such that the Minister will be swayed not just by my powers of oratory but by one or two proposals which have been presented to him in the meantime.

The brickmakers say that if they have to conform to the figure of 1·0, it will result in 5,000 redundancies. One can well understand what this will mean for the aggregate block manufacturers who have 75 per cent. of the market. I do not know what will be the figure of redundancies in that industry but it could be considerable. I submit that all this difficulty could have been avoided if action had been taken to remedy the hardship.

The joke is that the industry is advocating higher standards. Why should we in Parliament object to a vested interest demanding higher standards? Too often in this House we compromise to mitigate hardship. But here we have an industry that wants to go further than the Government's regulations.

I find it difficult to accept the argument advanced in a recent Adjournment debate and in recent correspondence that if the standard of 1·0 is maintained hundreds of small firms will face the need to re-equip. Many firms have not the capital. Firms in the industries covered by these provisions face liquidity problems, as do most other industries at present. The depressed state of the building industry should make us hesitate to take any action which will put firms in an even more parlous state. At best, the firms are working at far below capacity. We need to see that their confidence is restored. Even the Secretary of State for Industry—and I am sorry that he is not present for this debate—avaricious though he may be, is hardly likely to enter this arena and take over a number of small firms because that activity does not have the appeal possessed by other sectors of industry.

The tragedy is that by opting for this figure the Government are making a considerable blunder. If the Government were to go for a figure of 0·6, there would be no disruption in the industry; the firms could continue to manufacture the same product. The industry is supported by the union and by the lightweight concrete block makers and all want a figure of 0·6. They believe that ultimately we shall arrive at that figure anyway and all that is needed to arrive at a figure of 0·6 is for insulation material to be filled into the cavity between outer and inner walls.

On 9th December the Minister wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) in the following terms:
"We have carefully considered the practicability of going to a very much higher standard. We are however … far from certain whether the insulating materials industry for existing houses and other types of building would be able to handle the much higher demand, which would also involve the development of new materials, skills and techniques. We would either have to accept a long delay until we were sure the insulating materials industry could cope, or accept a grave risk of supply shortages and rising costs."
I must challenge that statement—indeed, I go further and say that it is entirely wrong. The materials involved—foam-filling, fibre-glass or dry-rot walling—are produced by such "small" companies as Shell, ICI, Monsanto, and Pilkington. These are firms who could not cope with the increased demand since they do not have the resources! What nonsense! I have been told categorically that there can be no question of any shortage, that if 0·6 is accepted they could easily cope with the upsurge of demand, which can easily be ascertained. It is wrong of the Minister to give as his reason for not moving to 0·6 the shortage of these materials.

The Structural Insulation Association, which I gather is the leader in its field, confirms that it, too, has made inquiries and has reached the same conclusion as I have. Therefore, someone in the Ministry is mis-informed. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will explain how this has come about. The argument against moving to higher standards on that basis is therefore demolished.

Let me move on to the Under-Secretary. In an Adjournment debate on 4th February, he said:
"We are satisfied that these new standards can be achieved with no significant increase in the capital cost of new housing and without shortages of insulating or structural materials.
We are by no means convinced, however, that this would be the case if we were to lay down an even higher standard at the present time. Apart from the obvious undesirability of adding further to the cost of new housing, we are uncertain whether the necessary skills and techniques required to achieve a higher standard are yet sufficiently developed. This applies not only to the manufacture of materials but to the skills and techniques employed on the building site itself.
We also need to consider very carefully the possible side effects of going to standards of which there has not hitherto been any widespread experience in this country. We are, for example, examining the problem of interstitial condensation which I understand to be the undesirable development of condensation within the structure of highly insulated walls."—[Official Report, 4th February, 1975; Vol. 885, c. 1342–3.]
The side effects of the shortage of men to carry out this work and uncertainty about whether the necessary skills and techniques exist are also eyewash. We are not talking about men who need years of experience in the computer industry or about sophisticated skilled engineers. This is a simple process of blowing in material to fill a cavity. I know, again from inquiries that I have made, that there is no difficulty in recruiting men. A number of first-class companies already operate this service.

What about the side-effects of condensation? The Under-Secretary says, of course, that he needs more time. This is a favourite ploy of Governments, of whatever party. More time for what? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell his experts that instead of doing research that has already been done, they should send one or two of their number to the western seaboard of Europe, to Norway, Sweden, Denmark and other countries where the climatic conditions are similar to ours, where they have been using this infilling for decades and where they have had no problems of condensation in working to 0·6. This, again, is an excuse for not going the whole hog and accepting that the needs of this nation are now such that any move to conserve energy must be given the fullest priority.

I trust that the Minister accepts that our motive in tabling the Prayer is not to vote against the regulations. We want only to draw his attention to the fact that he has made a mistake and that, in the national interest, in the interests of the home owner or council tenant and the interests of the industry, he needs to go further. The Government's proposal to move to 1·0 will save about 8 per cent. of our total energy bill. By moving very quickly to what we suggest, 0·6—we shall give the Minister all help to facilitate that, about which he will be relieved—the saving in the energy bill would be 20 per cent.

As a nation we must become totally committed to the conservation of energy. There is no more fruitful area for savings to be made than that which we are debating. I trust that the Government will take heed of what has been said, because any further delay will be unforgiveable.

10.20 p.m.

It might be for the convenience of the House if I intervene early in the debate in order to set out a number of facts relevant to these regulations. I shall be ready, with the leave of the House, to respond to the debate if there are points which require answer afterwards.

Listening to the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Fox), I was not quite sure whether he was the bright dawn of the new régime or the last fizzling spark of the old one. Certainly he seemed to be taking on the guise of his right hon. Friend the new Leader of the Opposition in wishing to dissociate himself from the activities of his own Government, since, as I shall illustrate, his vehement attack was directed against decisions made by his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hexham (Mr. Rippon), his hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) and his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Eyre).

Will the Minister confirm that early in my speech I said that action should have been taken in this respect long before the energy crisis came upon us?

Yes, I accept that, of course. But it is necessary to make it clear to the House that by making statements of that kind, which we are getting in showers from the Opposition Front Bench, the Opposition cannot pretend that the period from June 1970 to February 1974 never existed. Right hon. and hon. Members of the Opposition held office in the Department of the Environment and made decisions, and those decisions have had repercussions. The hon. Gentleman cannot pretend that that did not happen just by saying that he wishes that other things had been done during that period.

This is the third occasion in four months that the House has debated this important subject. There was the interesting Adjournment debate of the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir J. Rodgers), the Adjournment debate of my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Mr. Tinn) a few days ago, and now this Prayer—which I am very happy we are debating even though it is, unfortunately, a little out of time now.

Building regulations are usually taken for granted, which is perhaps a tribute to the way they are written, the way they are observed by designers and builders, and the way they are enforced by local authorities. But they are important, and with the new powers in Part III of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act to make building regulations for a wider range of purposes, this importance will increase. In particular, building regulations will have a part to play in ensuring that new buildings will provide a decent standard of comfort without using a lot of expensive fuel. Energy conservation, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out fairly, and thermal insulation must be in all our minds. I therefore make no apology if I repeat what I have said before, and if what I say tonight bears the same resemblance to what I said last week as the books of Chronicles bear to the books of Kings.

The second amendment to the Building Regulations deals with matters of considerable technical complexity. Yet I can understand why hon. Members want to have them examined in debate because they bear on questions of much public interest and importance. The part of the amendment which deals with thermal insulation of dwellings—and which completely rewrites the existing regulations on the subject, as the hon. Gentleman said—is of special interest in the context of the present dramatic increase in the fuel prices. I understand, as the hon. Gentleman indicated, that those hon. Members who put down the Prayer against the order are all concerned especially with this part of the amendment. To judge from the weight of correspondence with the Department in recent weeks—indeed, in recent months—it is also the concern of many other hon. Members.

May I take this opportunity to explain that it has not been possible to send detailed replies to all who have written to us. I intend, therefore, to devote my opening remarks to the subject of thermal insulation in the belief that this is what hon. Members will want to discuss, though I gather from the hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) that he intends to cause us some inconvenience by raising other subjects.

The amendment includes, however, a number of other important measures. The three most important of these are: first, the revision of the "deemed-to-satisfy" provisions for structural work of concrete in order to take account of the limit states design method. This is embodied in a code of practice issued on the subject by the British Standards Institution and work designed in accordance with this code—CP 110—will be "deemed-to-satisfy" the mandatory requirements.

Second, the "deemed-to-satisfy" provisions for structural work of timber have been revised to take account of a new system of grading timber, known as stress-grading. Stress-grading enables the right timber to be selected, thus leading to economies in use.

Third, "deemed-to-satisfy" provisions which relate to the use of high-alumina cement concrete for structural use have been withdrawn so that local authorities can reject plans which show that high alumina cement concrete is to be used structurally.

I will content myself for the present with the broad statement of the existence of these measures. If hon. Members do raise any points about them, however, I hope there will be time in my concluding remarks to answer them.

I will turn, then, to the new Part F, which revises the requirements for the provision of thermal insulation in dwellings. This part of the regulations has been entirely re-written. It lays down higher standards of insulation for external walls, floors and roofs and for the first time specifies a method of taking account of the effect of window openings on the insulating efficiency of perimeter walls.

To judge from the letters we have received, and from the debate on the subject on the Adjournment initiated by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks last November, there is concern about our proposals on one broad issue and on one particular provision. At this stage I hope the House will forgive me if I once again place on the record comments which I have made previously to a more restricted audience.

The broad issue is whether, in the context of the growing need to conserve fuel, our amendment goes far enough. It is said that our standards have been the lowest in Europe, including Scotland which has its own separate building regulations, and that we should take the earliest opportunity of remedying this obvious deficiency.

I do not think there is any great profit in the comparative study of European standards. For one thing, our own proposed revision will undoubtedly be the precursor of changes elsewhere. It is, in any case, very difficult to make valid comparisons, given the diversity of standards between, and, in some cases, within, European countries. This diversity applies not only to the requirements themselves but in their application and enforcement.

I will limit myself to saying that, although it seems likely that, in recent times, no country in Europe has had standards lower than ours, we have now increased our standards, even if not to the levels which are appropriate to the much colder winters of Scandinavia.

I was somewhat astonished to hear the hon. Member for Shipley say that the climate in Norway, Sweden and Denmark was similar to ours. I have been in Copenhagen in March when the sea has frozen over. That is not uncommon there, but it does not often happen off Flam-borough Head.

As the House has been told by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy, we have agreed to take part in work which the European Commission proposes to undertake on fuel conservation in buildings. This will include all building types, not merely dwellings, and all methods of conservation, not merely insulation.

Part of the answer to the criticism that we have not gone far enough lies in the statutory powers under which the amendment was made. Under the Public Health Acts we can make regulations solely in the interests of public health and safety, and it is under these powers that the second amendment has been made. Our object was to reduce condensation in dwellings, several years' of study having shown that thermal insulation can play a significant part in doing this. Moreover, unlike the other factors involved, such as heating and ventilation levels, thermal insulation can be controlled by building regulations.

Nevertheless, the new regulations will make a significant contribution to fuel economy. We are, roughly speaking, doubling the amount of insulation required. To take a fairly simple example, the amount of insulating quilt to be inserted in a roof will have to be increased from 25 mm. to 50 mm.

The hon. Gentleman did me the courtesy of quoting a fairly long passage from the speech I made in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Mr. Tinn). I shall repeat those words, because they are relevant to the subject we are discussing. We are satisfied that these new standards can be achieved with no significant increase in the capital cost of the new housing, and without shortages of insulating or structural materials. But we are by no means convinced that this would be the case if we were to lay down even higher standards at present.

Is the hon. Gentleman in a position to confirm or deny reports which have appeared in the trade Press that Ministers take the view that the new measures will add £35 to the construction cost of a new house?

I should not like to reply immediately, because I have not seen the reports. I shall look into the matter before answering the hon. Gentleman.

Apart from the obvious undesirability of adding further to the cost of new housing, we are uncertain whether the necessary skills and techniques required to achieve a higher standard are yet sufficiently developed. This applies not only to the manufacture of materials but to the skills and techniques employed on the building site itself. We also need to consider very carefully the possible side effects of going to standards of which there has not hitherto been any widespread experience in this country.

That is the important matter, because, despite what the hon. Member for Shipley says; climatic and other conditions vary considerably. We are, for example, examining the problem of interstitial condensation. The House will be aware that under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act, which became law in July last year, we shall have express power to make building regulations in the interests of conserving fuel. The regulations before us are to do with condensation, and any fuel savings are incidental. We have no status to do otherwise.

We have in hand an urgent study, which we hope to complete in the next few weeks, of possibilities for fuel conservation in buildings of all kinds. Our object is to identify the types of building, the technical means most likely to produce savings and the feasibility of achieving them. This involves taking into account the likely pattern of national energy supply over a considerable period. It also means considering action for both the short term and the long term.

I stress again that the possibilities include not only thermal insulation in its various forms but other possibilities which might lead to equal or greater savings. I cannot yet forecast the extent to which housing will be identified as requiring priority over other building types, or whether further increases in thermal insulation standards are likely to give greater immediate benefit than improvements in, say, the control of ventilating or heating systems.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the experts in my Department. They are immensely knowledgeable and very devoted. I pay tribute to the work they have done on this matter and the detailed work upon which they are engaged for the further study to which I have referred. I have asked them to pay particular attention, as a matter of urgency, to the possibility of extending the thermal insulation requirements for dwellings to other buildings, such as hotels and institutions that are occupied continuously in the same way as houses and flats. The House will, I hope, understand that I do not think that it will be right for us to make new regulations until we have assimilated the results of this work.

I therefore ask the House to accept our view that the substantial increase in thermal insulation standards set out in the second amendment represents the furthest extent to which we should take mandatory regulations at present.

There is one other point I would like to make before leaving this general issue of the right level of insulation at the present time. Because the regulations are mandatory, we must be sure that their requirements can be met and that the benefits they bring will be worth while. But the standards they set are minimum standards. There is nothing to stop anyone building to a higher standard.

I turn to the particular provision on which our regulations have caused concern. This is the requirement that the thermal transfer coefficient, or U-value, of the external walls of a dwelling should be 1·0. I am astonished at the heavy weather the hon. Member for Shipley made of this requirement, the extravagant language he used, the passion that entered his voice over this decimal figure. He described our choice of 1·0 as a blunder of considerable magnitude. I have been associated with blunders in my time, and no doubt shall be again before I am done, but this blunder was originated and circulated by the Conservative Government.

In so far as there has been any real doubt and any careful consideration, it has been by the Labour Government. I held up the proposal for several months while I carefully studied its implications and whether it was right. Only after extremely careful consideration did we decide to bring this amendment forward. It was the Conservative Party which rushed recklessly like lemmings into this 1·0 standard. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not get worked up over this matter in his polemical way.

I should explain to hon. Members who have not been present at our previous interminable debates on this subject that the U-value is a measure of the rate of heat flow through a structure, so that a low U-value represents a high standard of insulation, and when standards of insulation are increased the U-value is lowered.

A committee representing many manufacturers of lightweight aggregate concrete blocks and the Brick Development Association has complained strongly to us and to many hon. Members that this new standard will put them at a grave disadvantage compared with the makers of aerated concrete blocks who are a relatively small sector of the construction materials industry.

The hon. Gentleman involved himself not only in extravagant language but in extravagant arithmetic. He spoke of hundreds of small firms being in danger. There are fewer than 200 firms involved in the entire industry. Not all of them are small firms. The employment in the 183 firms on the Department of Employment's statistical classification of makers of concrete building blocks of all types is just over 25,000. There is a problem here, and I have never denied that there is a problem. As I am deeply concerned about questions of employment and redundancy, even in high employment areas, I have always taken this matter carefully into account. It was one factor which caused me to ask for these amendments to be delayed before being presented.

It is possible to exaggerate the impact upon employment and upon redundancy. For reasons which I do not criticise, those who have been closely involved have pushed their case as hard as they can. The hon. Gentleman has clearly been somewhat deluded by the fact that he believes that many hundreds of firms are in danger. It clearly is not so.

The reason given for believing that this standard will disadvantage certain firms is that, since the outer leaf of the usual two-leaf external wall structure of a dwelling will usually continue to be made of brick, the inner leaf will, if it is to satisfy both our new standard and to be made of blocks of conventional weight and size, have to be made of low density blocks which can be supplied only by the aerated block manufacturers.

The committee proposes, as the hon. Gentleman has championed, the adoption of a greatly reduced U-value of 0·6 or 0·8 which, it believes, will enable all producers to compete on an equal basis. The committee wants everyone to have a handicap so that its handicap will be reduced. The committee says that the standard we propose will cause widespread bankruptcies, unemployment and a shortage of building materials. We are accused of rushing the matter through without adequate consultation. Far from rushing it through, we have taken it very slowly, and far from not having adequate consultation we are accused of consulting too many people, and organisations which are irrelevant, such as the Pest Control Association. The hon. Gentleman need never fear. I shall meet the Pest Control Association charge head on.

I take some exception to the accusation that we have acted hastily without due consultation. Apart from the brick industry, whose importance and interest is self-evident, we are aware that there are about 120 firms making lightweight aggregate blocks. Many of these firms are small; they are scattered widely over the country. They supply local markets and are valuable for that reason. We are not likely to dismiss their problems without consideration. We least of all as a Government have not dismissed the problem of ducks, however lame.

Our proposals were first circulated just over a year ago, in January 1974. We asked for replies by a specific date, but we were willing to consider representations after that date, and officials of the Department met members of the committee as late as August. As a result, I personally considered the points now being made for the committee to hon. Members, and they were considered by my Building Regulations Advisory Committee. I discussed them very carefully also with my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction.

There was another meeting with the committee in November, shortly before the order was made. As to our choice of organisations to be consulted, it must be remembered that building regulations deal with matters other than thermal insulation, in some of which the advice of the Pest Control Association is valuable. I might add that the overwhelming majority of organisations with a relevant interest in thermal insulation are in favour of our proposals. Most responsible opinion is in favour of our proposals. I will not say that we have full-hearted consent, but the support is overwhelming.

I have already discussed our reasons for not going to a much higher standard at the present time. I do not doubt that a U-value of 0·6 or 0·8 would be of great convenience to some manufacturers of building materials—to say nothing of the insulating materials industry—who would need to supply a third insulating membrane between the two structural leaves, which can still suffice under our present proposals. There are, however, wider interests to be considered, and I have explained why we think they will best be served by the standards we have proposed.

I now come to the practical difficulties facing the block makers. We do not deny that there are very real difficulties and that some firms, especially small ones, will find it more difficult to adapt than others. We do, however, deny that they have an impossible task. As I said earlier, the block makers do not believe that they can, at least in the time available, reduce the density of their products without special capital equipment. I will turn to the time factor later.

As to the practicability of the problem, we believe that it can be solved by the introduction of cavities into the blocks; by the use of an aggregate of different density or by a combination of both. I have an example waiting outside the Chamber. I would have brought it in if the Clerk had not warned me that it might be regarded as an offensive weapon.

Another possibility could be the addition of insulating material to the blocks. It is said that the insertion of cavities is a difficult process which will make it necessary to alter existing moulds or machinery, will reduce strength and often increase the rate of breakages. We do not deny that these difficulties exist but we think that they can be overcome.

There are two technical information notes available from the Department. I have them here, and I shall be happy to supply them to any hon. Member or to firms in his constituency. There is also the guide issued by the Institute of Heating and Ventilating Engineers, whose method of calculating the U-value forms the basis of the new regulation. These should be a help to firms. We know of a number whose adapted products are already on the market.

Some firms are also producing aggregates of suitable low density. These are sometimes referred to as "man made", and it is alleged in consequence that the power station and colliery clinker and slag at present used by the block makers will become unsaleable. It is further said that the new materials are not only themselves oil based but need expensive fuel to produce them.

In fact, the man-made aggregates are largely made of the traditional waste products. Few employ oil-based ingredients, and we have no evidence that their production is excessively fuel consuming. We know at least one firm which is producing such aggregates for sale to blockmakers, together with suitable block production machinery.

It is true that the firms which started to make their redispositions earlier had a head start. They have, like everyone else, after all, had over a year's notice. I would not accuse any firm of being backward. But it ill becomes anyone in this House to oppose new and improved regulations on grounds of Luddism, which, to some extent, does underlie some of the opposition to the new standard.

But there is still time for other firms to make redispositions. There appears to be a widespread belief that on 31st January, the date the new order took effect, all new housing will start to be built to the new standards. This is not so. The end of last month was the deadline after which all plans for new housing submitted for approval will have to comply with the new standard. Since, in the public sector at least, it takes from one to two years to move from the submission of plans to the start of work above foundations, the demand for materials for houses built to the old standard will not suddenly stop. In the private sector the time lag is not so great, but it nevertheless exists.

I should, however, make it clear that it has become apparent from surveys we have made that a large proportion of houses in the public sector are already built with external walls at about the new standards. Most of these walls have the usual one leaf of brick and one of block. Nevertheless, it would certainly not be in the interest of block makers to delay adapting their products.

We do not accept that the lightweight aggregate block makers will be forced out of the market for external walls, nor are we convinced that this market is as important to them as they claim. The Committee states that 70 per cent. of their production and 10 per cent. of bricks goes into the inner leaf of external walls. Our estimate is that only about one-third of lightweight aggregate block production and 2 per cent. of bricks does so.

The committee believes firmly that their products have many advantages over other types of blocks, particularly in sound insulation properties. We would expect them to exploit these advantages in competing for work in other structural parts of buildings, not only houses.

We do not believe that firms doing this will find, as the committee alleges, that builders will order only one type of block, for the sake of convenience. Surveys we have made of 22 public sector projects show that an average of two sorts of brick and three sorts of block were used for each project.

It is true that a sector of the brick industry whose products lend themselves particularly to use in the inner leaves of external walls may find themselves with difficulties. Given the very large market that exists for bricks, however, I am sure that they will also be able to adapt.

Is the hon. Gentleman seriously challenging the industry on its figures and saying that the 70 per cent. figure given to hon. Members is a deception and that it should be only one-third and that the 10 per cent. figure given by the brick industry should be only 2 per cent.?

I wish that the hon. Gentleman would not involve himself in such extreme language. I do not claim that a deception has been practised. Errors can be made without involving deception. The hon. Gentleman makes a large number of errors, but I would never accuse him of deliberate deception. We cannot accept the figures put forward by the industry. We say that the 70 per cent. figure its puts forward should be about one-third and that its 10 per cent. figure should be 2 per cent.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has given me the chance to emphasise that matter. It is a good example of the way in which people seeking to make a polemical case in their own economic interest state their case as strongly as they can. I do not blame them for that. I would not blame anybody for defending his economic interest. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not object if we in the Department who are responsible for making matters clear make clear that the figures put forward are not accurate.

My Department is never wrong.

I hope that I have been able to convince the House that my Department is never wrong and that we have not been inconsiderate in our treatment of large and important sectors of the industry and that we are right in believing that they will be able to meet the new standards.

To conclude, we believe that our proposals represent a major advance in the thermal insulation of housing, but one that it would be imprudent to attempt to improve on without further study of priorities of the development of materials and techniques and without greater knowledge of possible side effects. We firmly believe that the new standards represent a challenge which all sectors of the construction industry can and will surmount.

I do not deny that it will be difficult for the makers of light-weight aggregate blocks and for some brick firms. I do not deny that some may prove to be unsuccessful. But I do deny that the result will be the catastrophe that the block makers committee seems to fear, that has been supported by the hon. Gentleman.

I should like to pay a tribute to the Minister's superb Department. However, has that Department made any estimate of what it will cost the industry to meet the new criteria which are being laid down by this House?

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman aggregated estimates, since such estimates would be extremely notional.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his tribute to my Department, which has managed to survive two of the most disastrous Secretaries of State for the Environment in our history and come out smiling.

10.51 p.m.

Unlike my two hon. Friends, I cannot claim to be an expert on building in general or building regulations in particular. I am here because I was very impressed by the arguments put to me by one of my constituents, Mr. Allison, as he showed me round his concrete block works some weeks ago, and by other arguments which I have heard since.

The Allison group, which is in my constituency, is a well-known and major employer in the East Riding of Yorkshire. It started from small beginnings, has grown, and now takes part in a wide range of activities, of which this is one. It is a go-ahead firm. It is progressive and competitive, and cannot be criticised as backward. It is not frightened of change. However, the people in it are businesslike people and if they are to make changes they need reasonable time in which to do so.

The irony of the situation is that the industry is willing to make changes. It is committed to improving thermal insulation and is willing to co-operate with the Government. It is ridiculous for the Government to rush through changes of this sort if they severely damage three-quarters of the industry, cause unemployment and reduce competition within the industry.

To give an instance of the co-operative attitude of the industry, I understand that the Department of the Environment has suggested the introduction of cored blocks. A solution which the manufacturers are prepared to accept is the introduction of new machinery which would be better able to make core blocks, without undue loss of output. This is a major development, and the industry will be unable to achieve results if these regulations are introduced now, even allowing for the passed plans to work through the system. The delivery dates on new and suitable types of block machinery, prior to the new demand, are about 12 to 18 months ahead. For the most part those machines are imported.

The foreseeable and inevitable consequences of allowing the new figure to go into the regulations will be the creation of an artificially induced shortage of walling materials, an escalation in price because of the scarcity of those few materials which are usable, a near-monopolistic supply situation which will replace the present competition between producers, and unemployment, particularly in my constituency, as orders for otherwise suitable blocks fall off.

The Department of the Environment has admitted that it is uncertain as to the insulating materials industry's ability to cope with higher demand, which will involve the development of new materials, skills and techniques. Supply problems will also arise from the adoption of too impractical a standard. Already insulating materials are in much demand outside the building industry, as well as for home improvements. They will be put under further demand pressure by the roof and ceiling requirements of the new regulations, where there is no practical alternative. Even if a figure of 1·4 W were adopted, shortages in these materials could arise. For this reason, in walls where alternative constructions are available, these should be employed.

The difference in annual fuel consumption in domestic buildings built in one year between a 1·0 W figure and a 1·4 W figure for walls would be less than the additional fuel required annually to produce the extra oil-based and oil-consuming lower density materials, and to deliver them the substantial extra distances from their fewer remotely located centres of production. At the price of chaos, very little would be achieved.

The whole operation of revising these regulations has been conceived in haste and in isolation from the main manufacturers, and executed in little short of panic. They ask for time—time to bring up the standards in sensible stages, time to adjust production, and, transcending all, a proper understanding of the practical consequences of the changes being wrought.

10.57 p.m.

I am grateful for the intervention of the hon. Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan), because he dealt with this matter as I intend to—mainly on a constituency basis.

I was surprised by the partisan and absurdly controversial speech of the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Fox). It was quite uncharacteristic of a debate of this type.

As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will know, in my constituency I have received a number of varying representations, some tending to go some of the way with the hon. Member for Howden in suggesting that there could be considerable difficulties, and others welcoming the second amendment and pointing out that the manufacturers concerned have been satisfying this type of criterion for some time.

This movement from 1·7 to 1·0 could cause some difficulty if there were too much time pressure on manufacturers. I agree with the hon. Member for Howden that it is important for manufacturers of light-weight blocks especially to be given adequate time in which to make these changes.

I was comforted by some of the comments of my hon. Friend. In a way which was comprehensible to a non-technical individual like myself, he described some realistic adaptations which could convert existing production to satisfy the 1·0 figure.

My hon. Friend's point about the difference between housing submitted for approval and the actual production of it, in both the public and the private sector, means that manufacturers who face difficulties will have a little time to play with. I am sure that people facing difficulties of this type will receive sympathetic consideration from the Department. Nevertheless, I ask my hon. Friend to look carefully at any problems which may be reported to him.

Some manufacturers have suggested that they may be ready to move towards a 1·2 figure but not a 1·0 figure. There seemed to be a general measure of agreement among many of the manufacturers I spoke to about the figure of 0·6. The hon. Member for Shipley must have more expertise than I in this, but the manufacturers I spoke to were happy with the 0·6 figure. They put forward what seemed to me to be powerful arguments. They said that the only base for using a figure as low as this would be to use some foam in-filling.

There are a number of reputable and great companies like ICI in this field, but the feeling among many that I spoke to was that to meet the demand which would be created by a rapid movement to 0·6 there would be a rush into this foam in-filling by small producers to meet the demand. They gave me to understand that at present there was a waiting time of from eight to 10 weeks at a normal time, and clearly there are difficulties in that direction.

It was further pointed out to me that it is not realistic to make comparison with what happens in other countries. We have had references to Scandinavian countries from the hon. Member for Shipley, but we cannot make realistic comparisons in this direction because the use of foam in-filling of this sort means not only cast forming but in-filling to meet the structure required. To use foam in-filling may add considerably to the cost of production of housing produced in this way.

In contrast to what was said by the hon. Member for Shipley, and more in line with what the hon. Member for Howden said, there has already been some time, and there is still some time to come. There has been consultation with industry in general.

The only reason I chose to intervene was to make an appeal—which my hon. Friend has largely met—that his Department should be sympathetic about adaptations which will take place and are taking place. Some people concerned with light-weight blocks are making adaptations. I hope that those in his Department will be sympathetic to the time factor involved in these adaptations, and will bear carefully in mind what the industry generally said about the difficulties of moving to a yet lower figure. I hope that, as in the past, there will be thorough and adequate consultation if there is future movement towards an even lower figure, as I am sure there will be.

11.5 p.m.

I want first to declare an interest as a non-executive director of a private house building company.

In following the eloquent speeches by the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts) and my hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) I want to concentrate on three matters. First, the proposed lowering of the U values; secondly, the use of urea formaldehyde as a deemed-to-satisfy material; and, thirdly—as I indicated to the Under-Secretary—the new requirements for the use of high alumina cement, which has not been mentioned tonight.

The only controversial feature of the F regulations is the new U value for external walls of 1.0 watts per square metre degrees centigrade. That was discussed at length in the Adjournment debate on 4th February, raised by the hon. Member for Redcar (Mr. Tinn). I was present on that occasion, as the Under-Secretary knows, but I chose not to intervene in his speech so as not to take up private Members' time and because I had reason to believe that we would be debating the matter again.

On that occasion the hon. Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) mentioned the concern of the aggregate block producers. The Department cannot complain that it was not warned about the matter.

I moved an amendment in Committee on the Health and Safety At Work, Etc. Bill on 14th May 1974 when I said:
"One of the things that worries me, and the building trade, is that the proposed improvement of the thermal insulation of external walls means that it will not be possible to use many of the lightweight concrete blocks now widely used with bricks in cavity construction. One effect of this could be to create a heavy demand for those blocks that have better insulating properties—a demand which it may not be possible to satisfy for some time."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 14th May 1974; c. 275.]
On 16th May I suggested that
"perhaps a year's respite would be necessary between making the regulations and bringing them into force."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 16th May 1974; c. 278.]
The Minister of State, the hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris) in his reply to me on 16th May, courteously preferred not to comment on my detailed points but said that the views of the block manufacturers would be taken into account by the Department.

I am sure that that happened. Nevertheless, the proposal for a 1·0 U value is exactly the same as when the document was first circulated for comment by the DOE—as the Under-Secretary said, by the former Conservative Government—on 25th January 1974.

Let there be no doubt about the views of the aggregate block producers, which were well put by Mr. Eric Morton in Building Design on 6th September 1974 when he said:
"The new standard will put our blocks out of compliance unless a third membrane is added. But this cannot be done overnight, and will cost a lot of money."
He pointed out that many firms had just completed capital investment programmes.
"One company in Widnes has spent over £2 million. This could all be wasted. … The axe will fall on a lot of companies unless this stupidity is put right."
Along with a number of hon. Members I have received representations from firms in my constituency about this matter. When I raised with the Minister the fears of Interfuse Ltd. of Syston, which said that it would be forced to close its works and declare 47 employees redundant, and pointed out that it had already closed a £250,000 plant in Melton and discharged all the employees because of the general trading situation, the Under-Secretary replied to me on 9th December:
"We believe that there is sufficient capacity in the construction materials industry to meet the increased demand resulting from the new standards without a significant increase in housing costs."
The hon. Gentleman added that the old blocks could be used for any buildings other than housing.

In the Adjournment debate on 4th February the Minister went further and said that it would, in effect, be one or two years before the new standards actually came into effect.
"The end of last month was the deadline after which all plans for new housing submitted for approval would have to comply with the new standard."—[Official Report, 4th February 1975; Vol 885, c. 1345.]
That would appear to meet the point that I made in Standing Committee about the need for one year's delay.

There are two quite separate arguments here. First, I cannot accept the theoretical argument that old blocks would be all right for other types of buildings than housing. I do not believe that any builder is likely to want more types of blocks in his possession than are necessary or that any merchant would be keen to stock them.

The producers say:
"We have already received inquiries from the public and private sectors regarding ongoing schemes, as the clients wish to have their houses on the market competing equally with those to be designed after January from an insulation point of view."
Similarly, the Under-Secretary of State's argument about sufficient capacity is misleading. As my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley said, the producers themselves have pointed out that only three manufacturers, who were responsible for 35 per cent. of the block output, are currently able to meet the specification. The effect undoubtedly will be to give them a substantial competitive advantage if they are able to cope with the increased demand. I doubt whether they will be able to do so. I do not want to go into the question whether it should be 1·0, or 0·8, or 0·6, or whatever.

I now turn to the question of costs, which is a complicated area. The Department of the Environment was quoted in Building Design of 13th December as saying:
"The new standard will add only £35 to the cost of construction of a new dwelling."
Yet in page 1 of the Housing Development Directorate's note of December 1973, dealing with thermal insulation in housing—and, of course, since December 1973 building materials and labour costs have sharply increased—it is said that
"the cost of roof insulation and the use of aerated concrete blocks and cavity wall filling is said to be between £60 and £100 per dwelling."
I have looked into the costings of the Department of the Environment and I am advised that it did some comparative costings on the basis of a semi-detached two-storey building. It reckoned that the additional cost of meeting the more stringent insulation requirements would be approximately £35, made up respectively of £10 for a lightweight block substituted for a clinker block, £10 for the improved roof insulation and the remainder in order to improve the sound transmission for perimeter walls adjoining party walls. This would be necessary as the cavity wall, made up with a brick outer skin and a lightweight inner skin, would not meet a building regulation requirement regarding flanking sound transmission.

I am advised by architects that their investigations do not produce the same conclusions. The lightweight inner leaf referred to by the Department would not normally be able to carry more than about one floor without being overstressed. It is therefore necessary either to make the inner leaf 140 mm or to make the wall a normal brick-built cavity wall with some insulation added. They go on to say that the additional cost of all these things would add about £260 per house. We need these matters clarified if the Minister catches the eye of the Chair before half past 11 o'clock. I am sure that the House will appreciate the complicated nature of the calculations. In the document "Thermal Insulation in Housing" there is a series of algebraic symbols so complicated that it would be impossible for Hansard to understand it if I were to read it to the House.

I now turn briefly to the question of urea formaldehyde, which, in Schedule 3, page 39 of the regulations is made a "deemed to satisfy" material. Here again, I must immediately say that I warned the Minister about this in Committee on 14th May. I said:
"instances have been reported to the building industry of rain penetration having occurred in walls which have been filled in this way."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 14th May 1974; c. 276.]
On 16th May, I said:
"urea formaldehyde foam cavity fill should not be considered a 'deemed to satisfy' material for these insulation purposes"—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 16th May 1974; c. 277.]
My views are partly confirmed by the Under-Secretary of State's comment on 4th February, when he said:
"if cavity filling is not done properly, or it is done to the wrong house, trouble follows." —[Official Report, 4th February 1975; Vol. 885, c. 1340.]
It is no secret that many people are jumping on the energy-saving band wagon. There may be cases of urea formaldehyde being used in unsuitable situations. The result could well be disastrous for the house-owner—a damp house with higher condensation and higher rates—all to save a bit of oil! I note from Contract Journal of 6th February that the Agrément Board is bringing out an approval system for proper contractors capable of doing the job properly. The Government must accept some share of the blame for bringing this regulation forward before all the practical difficulties have been sorted out.

That brings me to the question of high alumina cement which is banned by Regulation 9 for structural work but specifically not banned for non-structural work. There is nothing new about the use of this material. It was first used by the French company Ciments Lafarge in 1913 and was used regularly during the First World War in the construction of gun emplacements.

There is nothing new about the material deteriorating. I know of four cases in France in the 1920s, which eventually led the French Government to control its use in 1928 and 1935. There was a case of a cooling tower in England in 1954 which deteriorated because of the jets of warm water playing on it; and HAC was banned altogether in Bavaria in 1962 after the ceilings of six agricultural buildings collapsed. The rest of Germany also banned the use of HAC in a number of situations. Therefore, there are plenty of precedents available, none of them happy ones.

Before closing with a general recommendation, I should like to put a question to the Under-Secretary of State—a question which has been posed by Mr. Scott of the Structural Action Group. These regulations are not retrospective They specifically say that the regulations
"shall not apply to any work completed before the date of the coming into operation of the regulations".
What, then, is the Department's advice relating to the estimated 50,000 existing dwellings where HAC is used? I understand that at the seminar held on 29th November on "Building Defects and Failures", organised by the Building Research Establishment and the Institute of Building, the view was expressed that no firm conclusions or decisions on HAC could be reached until further exhaustive tests and reports were completed. This leads one to wonder when the Department will be in a position to give more positive advice. We need to know that soon.

One strand which comes very strongly out of all this is that much more needs to be done by the Department to improve the knowledge of the policy-making side regarding these technical problems. The U-value issue seems to have been inadequately thought out, at least from the costings side, and the urea formaldehyde case bears all the signs of a semi-panic reaction to the demand for energy conservation. With all the European evidence that is available, HAC should probably have been banned, structurally, years ago. The clasp system has suffered several recent disasters, and calcium chloride and urethane foam are, to put it no stronger, extremely controversial materials. There was also the disastrous design failure at Ronan Point.

This leads me to the view that the Department should strengthen its policy-making side by merging the Agrément Board and the BRE, and make the head of the BRE report directly to the Secretary of State. Furthermore, I should like to see the BRE with a proper "doom-watch" section, whose job it is continually to evaluate new technologies before they are permitted or obtain "deemed to satisfy" status. Public opinion has become alarmed—and with some reason. It is time that the Minister took a firm political initiative.

11.18 p.m.

I wish to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) for his valuable contribution to the debate. It was a pleasure to listen to somebody who obviously knows the subject in depth. I hope that some of the matters he raised will be dealt with by the Under-Secretary of State in his reply.

I share the concern that has been expressed on this matter. I have received a number of representations from constituents involved in the block-making business. I wish to thank the Secretary of State and the Department for their courteous replies to each case, although I must admit that my constituents have not been entirely satisfied with the replies which I have forwarded to them.

In an intervention a little earlier I raised the matter of the cost involved to block makers in meeting the changed criteria. I am somewhat surprised that the Minister has not come forward with some estimate of the cost involved. I am sure we all know of the many small firms which now face severe liquidity problems, especially in view of the depressed state of the building industry. Therefore, I feel that an unfair burden is being placed on this section of the manufacturing industry.

Has the Department considered making some special grant, subsidy or financial assistance available to help these people to meet the changes that must be made? Since Parliament is asking the industry to make changes, has the Minister any announcement to make about plans which will bring a solution to some of the problems faced by industry in these troubled times?

I was a little unhappy that the Minister dealt so severely with my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Fox). The Opposition have had an exciting experience this week, and my hon. Friend has recently returned from an exciting part of the world, so I hope that he will be forgiven for presenting a dramatic case. From what goes on outside we should learn that it is often those who behave dramatically and in an outspoken manner who win their case. The block-making industry has a fine advocate in my hon. Friend, and he certainly pushed their case to the utmost.

I am concerned about the timescale of implementation of this measure and about the cost.

11.21 p.m.

Order. The Minister will require the permission of the House to speak again.

I was about to request that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I have been pre-empted by your wisdom, as I so often was in Standing Committee.

Immense assistance, Sir.

I am obliged to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) for bringing some of the vast drama of the veldt into this debate on mundane and sometimes incomprehensible matters. The hon. Member for Melton (Mr. Latham) on the other hand, surprised me. We have had the benefit of his great expertise on technical building matters a number of times, and it seemed that tonight he was overstating a case and knew that he was overstating it. I do not blame my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Roberts) or the hon. Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) for putting forward constituency cases; that is one of the most valuable ways in which a debate of this kind can proceed. But those who do not have a constituency case to push can be a little more detached and can use their opportunities for detachment to a greater extent than did the hon. Member for Melton.

I cannot accept the allegation that we have rushed this matter. The reverse is the case. The hon. Member for Melton quoted himself—we always enjoy that: his words are always interesting—speaking in debates in Standing Committee in May. It is now February. Any criticism I may have had from outside is not that we have acted too fast but that we have been too slow, and that some of the advantages of this amendment may have been jeopardised or forgone thereby. But we thought it right to consider the matter carefully, for the serious reasons mentioned by the hon. Member for Howden. These questions involve small firms and the employment of individuals. Although not many of these firms employ more than a few people, it is important to take account of these considerations before proceeding. So we certainly did not rush into this decision: we gave it considerable thought.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock was very persuasive about the 06 standard. The hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Fox) seemed to regard it as over-whelming. But in fact 0·6 would require alterations in the usual form of structure as well as cavity fill. It would not be a very economic way of going about things. As I work it out from the figures made available to me, it would take about 16 years to recover the extra cost of going down to 0·6. Our figures show that that extra cost would be £80 per house. The energy saving in cash terms of 0·6 as against 1·0 would be only £5 more. I hope that the hon. Member for Shipley will take account of that, especially as he rightly laid considerable stress on the energy aspect of this amendment, even though I pointed out that we did not, at that time, have the most appropriate vehicle for dealing with energy considerations.

The average cost of building a semi-detached house—let us be charitable—in the Minister's part of the world and mine, is about £10,000. Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that an outlay of £80 per house is an exorbitant amount?

I am not in the least saying that it is exorbitant, but one has to look at the return on cost, and £80 extra expenditure, in addition to the extra expenditure involved in going to 1·0, in return for an energy saving of £5, is not a very economic proposition. That is all I put to the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Member for Melton talked about those who have put in large capital investment because of the new standard which has been introduced. I have been advised that adaptations need not require large extra sums in capital investment and that quite modest sums in capital investment are all that are required. In this connection, I was charmed by the hon. Member for Macclesfield, who is one of the most realistic, brutal and Thatcheresque Members of the Opposition, movingly asking us for grants, subsidies, and things like that. I thought that these were all now taboo on the Opposition side of the House.

I live with the Daily Mirror, which is a better thing to read. But I say this to the hon. Gentleman. When it comes to grants and subsidies in terms of industrial re-equipment, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry is an absolute repository of money to be made available. His new Industry Bill, to which the House will have the privilege of giving a Second Reading next week, will make even larger sums available for industry which finds itself in trouble. Therefore, I very much hope that the hon. Gentleman, with his customary breadth of mind, will join us in the Division Lobby in the somewhat unlikely event of the House dividing against Second Reading of the Bill next Tuesday evening.

I take very seriously indeed the remarks of the hon. Member for Melton about high alumina concrete. I have been seriously concerned indeed, not only by the problems of high alumina concrete but by other problems involving structural defects which come to light most disturbingly and involve not only the problem of high capital cost in rectification but risk to human beings of a kind that we cannot disregard. To date, we have not yet got right the protective measures which need to be taken in order to avoid these things rather than to put them right when they have been discovered. Generally they are discovered only in a very unfortunate way, and a way involving accident and possibly fatality.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have been personally concerned to try to look into ways of achieving what he describes as a "doomwatch" method; certainly to try to find ways of avoiding the vast and expensive defects which we suddenly discover and which cause local authorities to come to us with their absolutely horrifying problems, problems of cost of incalculable dimensions—literally incalculable, because we do not know the extent of the problem. I hope that the House will feel that this matter has been considered—

It being half-past Eleven o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.